Life in Isan moves slowly at times, and between harvests in particular, so it is normal for people to have a second job, or a craft, or a hobby, to fill this time.
But this goes more so for younger generations, who are increasingly restless during these periods, and it seems like my neighbour Em has found endless hobbies to keep himself occupied. So when he is not out flying his kite (waw), or fishing at the nearby lake, he will likely be tending to his twenty or so songbirds, which hang in ornamental cages through his compound, often spilling out onto the lane in front of the house.
So Em, or Em Nangrong as he’s actually known, is a bird enthusiast, a breeder, a trainer, and a trader, whose fascination for the red-whiskered Bulbul has bagged him an entire wall of trophies in his house.
The red-whiskered bulbul is a common songbird in Thailand, often found decorating local houses in ornamental cages, although the birds pictured above were in fact photographed hopping between branches in the tamarind tree below the balcony of my condo in Asoke, Bangkok. They are found all over Thailand. However communication is somewhat limited between myself and Em, given the language barrier, so most conversation is jousting, where I’d point to tell him a snake’s going to eat his birds, and in return he’d threaten to feed my cat to the snake.
Because these birds are expensive, costing roughly 10,000 Baht and up when he sells them, so I did feel somewhat concerned when he shared photos of three dead bird carcasses which had been mauled by a cat. Fortunately it was not my cat.
So I have listened to and known these birds for a while now, and I have seen Em bagging countless trophies on social media, yet until now I had no real clue to how these competitions are actually judged or contested.
So I therefore took to engage in some investigative journalism to find out.
Each year Em would take part in national contests as well as money rounds, where in the past he has won prestigious prizes including a Trophy from His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, as well as cash rewards of up to 50,000 Baht.
To win them he had pit his Red Whiskered Bulbul, or “Nok Hua Juck” as they are known locally, against other bird enthusiasts through various categories. This includes the beauty pageant, where birds are judged on their appearance (Faan Si), where the tell-tale signs of the bird include the red whiskers of its face, and a red patch on its rear. Then there are the singing contests, where the birds are not only judged on tone and purity of their voice (Siang Thong), but they go against the clock (Naap Dok), for around 15 seconds, when they are judged on the number of tweets during the time.
Best birds win.
"Allan Wilson is an Asia-obsessed travel blogger based in Bangkok and Isan. Travels for food, a bit of booze, and thrives on being lost in alien cultures. He’s the special winner of the TAT Newsroom Blogger Thailand competition 2017.”
Get to know more about him at http://live-less-ordinary.com/